Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Portuguese dessert in search of a better name

Why would you name your dessert "Rancid Cake"? This is precisely what we saw on the dessert list at a popular neighborhood restaurant in Lisbon. After a huge meal of garlic bread soup and salt cod baked with potatoes, we weren't really interested in dessert but took a look at the menu anyway, and this cake, because of its unusual name, caught our eye. Dave made up his mind immediately that he had to have it. The waiter explained that that the name had come about because of the use of "rancid butter" but followed with the promise that it was a very good cake. We decided to focus on the waiter's assessment of its deliciousness rather than on the potential rancidity of one of the ingredients, despite the opposing nature of these two details. And it was very good. I couldn't detect any hint of rancidness in it at all.

Anyway, after we came home, I saw an entry for "Putrid Cake" or "Bolo Podre" in another one of my Portuguese cookbooks:

The recipe does not use butter, but olive oil. The author theorizes that perhaps in the old days, the olive oil might have gotten rank or rancid, resulting in the unfortunate name, but prefers the alternative meaning of "podre" ("depraved" or "corrupt") to describe the influence of a rich and decadent cake.

Naturally, I had to make it to follow one of our Portuguese dinners. The list of ingredients is very interesting: finely ground anise seeds, 5 eggs in a total of 2 cups flour, olive oil, honey, and almost two cups of booze from a combination of tawny port, white wine and brandy. The top is supposed to crack as seen here:

We paired it with a semi-sweet madeira that we had brought home from Funchal, Madeira. This wasn't even the best madeira from our total Portuguese vacation haul:

but even so it was way better than the average bottle you can buy at your local wine store back at home. I can't wait to get into the other, better stuff!

So, what was the rest of the dinner like that I made to go with the Putrid/Corrupt Cake? I started this post backwards with dessert, but the rest of dinner was no less good. We had the Portuguese meatballs that I've made before again, this time paired with green beans with garlic, fresh coriander leaves, olive oil and lemon from the same cookbook that gave me the cake recipe. This is one of the best ways to prepare green beans that I have come across!

The Douro wine, made with Port grapes, was from our local gourmet purveyor of all things Iberian, The Spanish Table in Berkeley. It was a winner!

No comments: